Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Campus

My classroom's in the basement, between the toilets and a shop selling University-branded souvenirs. It's decorated in the style of an Austrian teenager's bedroom: square and windowless, with strip lights, a whiteboard on wheels and air-conditioning that sounds like a boiling kettle.

I teach one lesson plan six times daily, providing ample opportunity to iron out the kinks from the first class and then cock it all up again by the end. The long day - half eight to half seven - is made up for by the doddle of a commute. One thing for working two stops from the end of the line - it guarantees you a seat on the train.

Monday, September 29, 2008


It started raining. After work I went to the 100 yen shop and bought the cheapest umbrella I could find - a white-handled, transparent plastic-rain-mac number straight out of an early episode of Dr Who.

Funnily enough, it goes rather well with my suit.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

In My Street

After a week of unplanned early mornings, I woke at noon and decided to take in those parts of Fuchu that don't sell cheap groceries or advertise beer for 500 yen a glass. I didn't make it much further than either end of the street. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

The local baseball stadium. Left out of the flat, on the way to Fuchu Prison, a giant Toshiba factory and Kita-Fuchu station.

In the opposite direction, Tokyo Racecourse is just ten minutes away, a few hundred metres before the Suntory brewery, half a mile from the Tama Gawa river.

The Ito Yokado Incident

I'd left the supermarket and was halfway down the street before the check-out girl caught me up. She bowed, apologised twice, and handed over my change. It was a one yen coin. There are two hundred to the pound.

Friday, September 26, 2008

King Kinnear

My first thought was, isn't he dead? With some of the players in our squad, he might as well be for all he difference he'll make.

Just be grateful it's not Howard Wilkinson.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Training Day

Since arriving in Japan I've done almost nothing but drink beer, cook bad food under the influence of drink and wander aimlessly around town looking for pubs. Today though, the fun stops. Two days of training - or as I remember it from last time, listening to long speeches in a very hot room - and then work starts properly on Monday with six classes and a fifty-minute commute.

I met the people I'm teaching with at the foreigner registration desk yesterday. There's a bloke from Swansea with a collection of creased-up Chinese suits, a serious looking Canadian fresh out of teachers' college, and a woman from Michigan who used to work in Prague. They seemed nice enough - just as well, as we'll be inhabiting the same six inches of floor space on the train five mornings a week.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Business Hotel Cesar

My flat is a two-roomed Bento box on the ninth floor of an apartment building. I have a balcony that looks out on the mountains, a side window with views of the elevated Keisei line, a bathtub long enough to fit both feet in at once, a kettle that looks like a thermos flask and four cupboards (five if you include the kitchen). There's a Hot Pub hostess bar and a Nepalese restaurant downstairs and across the road a multi-storey carpark disguised as a Scalextric track, a corner supermarket where everything costs 50p and a sign posted in a snack pub doorway for "attractive Filipina waitresses".

Oh, and about a hundred million vending machines.

Sunset Over Fuchu

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fuchu It Is

For the next three months home will be here. On the edge of a megalopolis, near a beer factory and an art museum - and the busiest train station on the planet just a 25 minute ride away.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

West Ham 3 Newcastle 1

What are the chances of Ashley getting £480 million for a club in the Championship? Because make no mistake about it, if he hasn't sold up by the January transfer window then that's where we're headed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Llambias: I Wanted To Slap Keegan

There's a school of thought that says none of this would have happened if Chris Mort had been in charge. I'm not so sure myself: Wise would still have brought the same players in, Ashley would still have had the final say. Whatever else though, Llambias has been an unmitigated, Shepherd-esque disaster as chairman.

And the queue to slap him would run into the tens of thousands.


I was thinking of going to Paris this week. Instead I went to Berwick. As you can see, it's pretty much the same thing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Grow Carrots

Knobbled, gnarled and shrunken, but carrots all the same. I found this out, too: beans in hanging baskets are never a bad idea.

Monday, September 15, 2008

On The Market

He seems like a farly decent bloke, Mike Ashley, so I'll assume he's just been very badly advised by the people in day-to-day charge of the club. Or else he's a complete fool. Either way, he understands very little about what the fans actually want. Nobody seriously expected any £30 million superstar signings this summer, but nor did the thousands of people who paid £1,500 for three-year season tickets expect the club to go backwards so quickly. With the sale of Milner, the squad needed five more signings to do any better than last year (a replacement winger, creative midfielder, left-back, centre-half and a target man to cover for Viduka). At best we got one out of five - and lost a manager for pointing out the obvious. That would never have happened at Arsenal.

Financially, we're in a much stronger position than under the crippling mismanagement of Shepherd and Douglas Hall. On the pitch, we're no further forward at all.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


You knew we'd lose to Hull, that N'Zogbia would go missing for one of their goals, that Ameobi would be subsituted long before the end (and be booed off the pitch by idiots who'd only turned up to support the team), that Ashley wouldn't be there, that people who moaned all week would still queue up for their half-time pint.

A threadbare squad (thanks Dennis!), rock bottom morale and no sense of direction. On yesterday's evidence the only place this club's going is down.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Return?

Even in the constant soap opera that is Newcastle United Football Club this one takes some beating.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We Shall Overcome

It's simple. Really. Ashley's business model rests on the complicity of the people he's just pissed off. Buy a programme, a replica shirt, a pint of beer at Shearer's bar or a £3 Umbro t-shirt at Sports Direct and you're directly prolonging his stay at the club - and paying Dennis Wise's salary too.

Support the club, not The Man.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Santa Pola

Somehow I ended up in Santa Pola at the hottest part of the day. The high, narrow streets were shut up against the sun, the display on the municipal clock flapped between 27 and 28 degrees, leather-skinned drunks sat at plastic tables, captives in the shade.

The beaches were wide, the marina sweeping and the sun, as familiar as a clock face, moved somnambulantly through the sky, but the heat lent a shabbiness to the place: olive-green water under fishing boats, cigarette ends and dog shit on a cracked-up promenade, everywhere the smell of sea salt and rotting fish.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Cronies Keep Digging

But overdo the parallelism. It is a fact we don't have a manager four games into the season. It is a fact we don't have a fit left back over eighteen years of age. It is a fact the club brought in more money than was spent in the transfer window despite an increase in season ticket prices and a glaringly weak squad. It is a fact that we're going nowhere but backwards.

This says it all.

From A Rooftop

I'm lounging - literally - on a rooftop, beer on one side, book spine on the other. It's almost teatime in England, siesta time in Spain, and the only noise I can make out is the faint shrill of cicadas and voices carrying up from the pool. The sea is a cartoon blue and candyfloss clouds wisp lazily across the sky. The breeze rustles, a car engine starts, an inflatable ball slaps against water, across the bay a city slumbers.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Ground 102: Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero

A two-tiered roofless bowl, green-and-white striped, empty at the top and less than half full below. Elche were big and determinedly ponderous, Eibar had more skill but nowhere near enough ambition to make for an entertaining game. Their winner was the classic sucker punch: a cut-back from the touchline scuffed into the far corner past the goalkeeper's outstretched finger nails. The net barely rippled; there was more movement on the bench than in the stands. Thirty seconds later the full-time whistle blew.

Sleeping in Airports

The flight was so early it was hardly worth the bother of going to bed. Instead I took the last metro to the airport and sat up through the night on a hardbacked chair with a dog-eared Dracula and jazz from the 24-hour Starbucks.

Things started moving around four. There were flights to Spain and Amsterdam, Faro and a many-syllabled Greek resort. People had dressed for holidays not for home: tight-fitting shirts over beer-bellies and tattoos, baggy shorts and rubber sandals, football tops with nicknames on the back. The air outside was as cold and grey as old tarmac. I fell asleep as soon as we hit the sky.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Second Going

After the shock of Keegan leaving comes depression at the mess that's left behind. One more act of self-destruction, another season with nothing but the end to look forward to. This is what happens when you run a football club like a discount sports shop.

Monday, September 01, 2008

En España

I´m at my parents´house in Spain, a dozen or so kilometres south of Alicante, a little bit north of Santa Pola, a few hundred metres inland from the sea. The weather, of course, is hot. Very hot.